Alternatives For MSG To Achieve UMAMI

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Show Notes

1.20 min          What is MSG?
3.10 min          The Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.
9.10 min          Ways to get umami in food.
11.35 min        Will MSG effect sodium intake?
13.35 min        So is MSG dangerous?

What is MSG?

Monosodium glutamate is a salt form of glutamic acid. It is crystalline and used to season food to enhance taste as it can be easily dissolved in liquid. Glutamic acid (or glutamate when it is attached to sodium or other ions) is an amino acid naturally found in the body and is widely present in food. Glutamate, along with other compounds such as inosinate and guanylate are the key to trigger the umami taste when we eat.

What is UMAMI?

Umami is the fifth taste sense we experience along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. The characteristics of umami is described as savory like the taste we experience in a hearty meat broth, steak, or other cooked meats.

Is it safe to eat MSG?

Since the spotlight was put on MSG dating back to the 1960s, there have been debate over the safety of ingesting MSG and Asian restaurants in the US were to blame for what we know as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.”  More people have reported to having symptoms of headaches, nausea, flushing, heart palpitations believed to be caused by the MSG added to the food.

Studies have been been done to prove the association but have been later disproved due to flaws in the study design.  These flaws could have led to false positive results whether be from study conditions or subject’s pre existing conditions. Nonetheless, the effects of msg should not be overlooked and more focus should be on its proper use or alternatives to enhancing umami altogether.

To date, MSG is still considered safe to consume by the US FDA in normal amounts.

Alternatives for MSG

Glutamate, inosinate, or guanylate that triggers the umami taste sensation can be found in meats, fish, vegetables and mushrooms, naturally. The amount of glutamate also correlates to the ripeness of the vegetables as well like in tomatoes.  Combining foods rich in glutamate can naturally enhance the savory taste without having to excessively use seasonings.

Umami enhancing ingredients

  • Tomatoes
  • Seaweed
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Morel mushrooms
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Sardines
  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Pork

Umami enhancing seasonings

  • Tomato sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Miso paste (fermented soybean paste)
  • Fish sauce
  • Chicken/beef bouillon
  • Monosodium glutamate or MSG
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein

MSG for a Low Sodium diet

MSG still contain sodium, but 3 times less than table salt in comparison. A proper way to use MSG is to sprinkle small amounts on the foods to enhance the flavor because too much can actually ruin the taste of the dish. While adopting a low sodium diet, the extra glutamate added can enhance the flavor without relying on the salty taste profile.

Although it is still inconclusive to determine if MSG is the main culprit to symptoms after an Asian dish, it is still good to be cautious about the ingredients that can affect our body. Keep in mind that there are many other foods that can create and enhance the umami taste, not necessarily MSG alone. The take home message would be to be aware of what’s in the dish we eat and what are the foods that we cannot tolerate.

And like always, everything in moderation!

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